Thus revealed, the creature buried its nose in the tire-tilled soil...
January 16, 2004
Of Gods and men and suffering...
Category: Serious

So I've added a few links to other blogs on the sidebar (apparently the archive link purports to be able to see into the future -- don't believe the hype), as well as the link to my main site, Scary-Crayon (if you click them, they'll open in new browser windows). There's nothing there yet except a wicked cool splash page, but I should have content uploaded next week or so -- plenty of articles have been written, and I've taken the requisite photos for plenty more, so hold tight; content should be forthcoming. It's going to be great, JUST YOU WAIT! In the meantime, you can look at the splash image (which also sits in the top right corner of this page, albeit smaller with a different filter effect) and try and figure out what the hell it is. I don't have any prizes, but if you can name five of the objects in it, you'll have earned the right to feel like a champ. Good luck. 😉

In a bit -- instead of posting it as a blog entry -- I'll write up my own sort of profile page, to stand as the index for the subdomain (not linked, because there's nothing there yet). But since at this early date you probably stumbled across the blog because I gave you the URL, I don't see any reason to rush... It'd just be me going on about how I graduated from Yale with distinction in Philosophy and now am a jobless writer of fiction (and other stuff; this blog, the site) who can't sell a story to save his life. But you knew that already, didn't you?

But the remainder of this piece, to which the topic refers, will be a response to a post by blogger Dawn Eden (whose blog is linked in the top-right list), which was a reply to an e-mail that I sent to her, which I sent in reply to a post of hers entitled Life With the Lions. So I sent her an e-mail about the subject, to which she responded in another post, Veiled in Flesh -- to which I will be responding now. My e-mail is almost entirely reproduced in that post, so read Dawn's two posts and you'll be ready for this one. If you're interested in playing along at home, that is. So here we go...

Dawn begins her reply to the meat of my argument by saying, "The first premise I would ask Wes to accept is that Jesus was both fully God and fully man." That's not easily granted, and I'd be extremely hesitant to use that as a starting point for the discussion, for one of the major questions is precisely whether it even makes sense to say that any being is fully God and fully man at the same time. Dawn notes that, "If you grant that He was fully man, being fully human means being wired to feel pain. He couldn't be fully man if He wasn't able to suffer." I agree, which is why I'm not so prepared to grant the "fully" part of it -- to do so prematurely would be to completely ignore the problem and jump to the conclusion. First we'd need to argue that it is even possible for a being to be fully God and fully man at the same time, which would be, I think, a rather difficult argument to make. I'll argue that they can't, simply, as follows (for the sake of argument, naturally, we'll assume the existence of God, etc.):

1. God is perfect.

2. Man is imperfect -- i.e., not perfect.

3. Jesus was both God and man.

4. Jesus was both perfect and not perfect.

But (4) entails a contradiction. Granted, that is a very simplified form of a more sophisticated argument, but it suffices for our present purposes. You'll note that I've defined man with reference to his imperfection -- this was also suggested in my e-mail, where I wrote, "To suffer 'as a human' involves error, doubt, shame, regret, etc. -- things that Jesus, in virtue of his righteousness and sinlessness never experienced." I would add that these things, I think, are not only requirements for suffering as a human, but also for living as one -- if we were truly perfect, we'd all be gods.

That's not to say that I don't think an argument can be made for the simultaneous godhood and humanity of an individual, provided that qualifications are placed on each. For example, Dawn writes of Jesus, "during the time He walked this earth, He did not have the same kind of knowledge of all things past, present, and future that God the Father has." Arguably, this would entail that Jesus was not fully God -- if God is perfect, and omniscience is a mark of that perfection -- but those are the kinds of stipulations that I mean. It's not quite a semantics issue, but ultimately it would boil down to a question of terms. This is not unsurprising -- as Wittgenstein knew well, this is at the root of most philosophical difficulties.

However, in my e-mail, I did essentially gloss over this argument and suppose that Jesus was both God and man (though not fully man, owing to the above difficulty), in saying, "First, suppose that Jesus truly did suffer, physically, on the cross. Suppose that '[h]e had been poor in spirit. He had mourned. He was righteousness, and yet He knew what it was to hunger and thirst for it.' Suppose all of those things." In retrospect, I probably should've omitted "[h]e had been poor in spirit," from the quote I took from Dawn, because in actuality I haven't granted that supposition, as my following statements run counter to it: "All along the way, however, Jesus's faith was unshakeable. Jesus knew that he was God. Jesus knew what the future held for him, and he accepted and embraced it. And, through all of his torments, he knew that a throne awaited him in Heaven."

But granting that Jesus was both God and man is only one part of the difficulty at hand; the other, and what I concentrated on most in my e-mail, is the question of suffering. Dawn writes, "I don't believe there is any adequate analogy for the physical pain that Jesus was made to suffer. He was tortured and humiliated in the most ghastly and inhumane ways known in His time." The emphasis on the word "physical" is my addition, because it is key -- I have no problem granting that Jesus suffered intense physical pain. However, I have suggested that there are other kinds of suffering -- emotional pain; mental anguish -- that are, in essence, much worse. Note the examples of suffering that I presented: "Can we say that Jesus' suffering was greater than that of Peter, who had to watch Jesus suspended on the cross, abandoned and betrayed by himself, having denied Jesus three times before the cock's crow? Can we say that Jesus knew pain as Judas did, who suffered the knowledge that he betrayed his Savior for thirty pieces of silver, and, being unable to bear that burden, took his life in shame?" Clearly Jesus endured more physical pain than either, but Jesus was never driven to hang himself as Judas did, and retained the composure to die in such a manner that onlookers were compelled to admit, "Truly this man was a son of God." (Matthew 27:54, also Mark 15:39. Quotes are from the Bible I hold in my hands.) But what image comes to mind when you try to envision the melancholy death of Judas?

Before moving on, a final illustrative question on the matter: Who truly suffers worse? A poor young woman, ravaged by disease, covered with painful boils and starved to the bone because she cannot keep anything down, who dies surrounded by children, loved ones, with her husband's hand gripped tightly in her own, or a robust old man, physically healthy and having, in all likelihood, many more years to go, but who has never in his life had a friend, has never been loved by anyone, and who rarely goes out without a heavy raincoat and an umbrella -- not because he lives in an unnaturally wet region; on the contrary, the country is quite dry -- but because he cannot go anywhere without the whole of society turning its face towards him and spitting violently at him as he passes? Even if the man has hardened his heart to them and no longer cares for friendship or love, we might still ask which of these two poor souls is really worse off. Ask yourself that question; you know my thoughts on the matter.

I have also suggested that there is another quality that is integral to the human condition, and plays a large role in what I think are the worst kinds of suffering: uncertainty. I wrote earlier, "All along the way, however, Jesus's faith was unshakeable," but in actuality, "faith" is not the right word to use here. Faith amounts to hope, essentially, but Jesus had more than that -- he had knowledge, and certain knowledge at that -- maybe not of all things past, present, and future, but of his purpose, and that he was following his appointed path. His footsteps were sure. While Dawn notes that there is no adequate analogy for the physical suffering of Jesus on the cross, she compares it to childbirth, so let's play another game of "Who truly suffers worse?", shall we? Is it the woman going through the process of childbirth -- in keeping with the comparison to Jesus, let's assume that she has certain knowledge that the child will be okay -- or, elsewhere, a child destined to spend the remainder of his life -- and his afterlife, if there is one -- locked in a dark room, without ever knowing how or why he came to be there? You may not believe me, but I'd prefer the pain of "giving birth to billions of people at the same time, ... each birth [having] its own peculiar brand of pain" to that. After all, as Dawn notes, "He was giving birth to eternal life, to an entirely new creation -- to me and to everyone else who has been born again." These are, I take it, healthy children, who will go forth and do great things, etc., so the pain here is endured with the knowledge that it is worth it -- Jesus suffered, in essence, for a cause. And while arguably (if you grant that all things happen according to God's will, etc.) that can be said of everyone, their pain is somehow worsened by their ignorance of the fact.

As Dawn rightly notes, however, "Perhaps Jesus cried out at that one moment when He could not see what He hoped for" -- indeed, this is the issue with which the controversy over the meaning of the final outcry, and its relation to Psalm 22, is concerned. If there truly was a break somewhere between Jesus's perception of his godhood, it was at that moment that he suffered, at last, "as a human." However, I wonder, while Jesus may have felt the suffering of a human, could he ever have truly suffered as a human? For he nevertheless remained God incarnate even at that moment -- though he may not have known it.

Moreover, while Jesus may have felt abandoned by God at that moment, this was never really the case -- as I noted before, "Jesus was never lost." But according to the Bible, that is not true for the great majority of us. According to the Bible, God has turned away from many people, and many people will be condemned to suffer eternally in the flames of Hell. So Jesus may have suffered, yes -- but he never suffered that. And even if one argues that he did (with the descent into Sheol, though I think that is quite different from Hell proper), his sojourn there was not eternal.

And I can't get published? What's up with that! ;P

Hope everyone who read that long post enjoyed it...e-mail me if you have any comments, responses, etc. (click my name below, fix the spam filter), and STAY TUNED! The next post is going to be a pretty long one, too!

-posted by Wes | 6:00 pm | Comments (0)
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